Aging Issues: 12 of the Most Common Health Concerns Affecting Seniors
Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on April 12, 2021.
Know What is Normal. Be Proactive. See Your Doctor
You may not look the same, feel the same, or act the same as a 20-year-old, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy life. As we age, it's even more important to be proactive about our health.
- Know your body. Know what is normal for you and what is out of the ordinary.
- Make good lifestyle choices - eat healthy food and limit alcohol intake.
- Keep active and don't smoke! Choose activities that are kind to your body.
- See you doctor regularly.
Read on for the 12 most common health conditions you are likely to face.
Oh My Hip! Painful Joints and Mobility Issues: Osteoarthritis
Almost half of all people over the age of 60 and practically everyone over the age of 80 has some form of osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a natural process whereby cartilage between the joints starts to wear out with age. Injury, excessive weight, bad genes, and smoking accelerate this process. It's not only your hips that suffer. Other joints such as your knees, hands, feet and your spine can be affected.
Pain relieving medicines can help with mobility and gentle types of exercise - such as swimming or T'ai chi - are kinder on your joints. Some people may also find natural products such as glucosamine or fish oils beneficial.
Problems With the Ticker: Heart Disease
If you consider that our heart has to beat around 33 million times every year, it's not surprising that it starts to tire as we age. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults aged over 65. Over one-third of men and one-quarter of women have some form of heart disease.
Conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes also place stress on the heart. Love your heart by eating a good healthy diet with plenty of vegetables. Limit your intake of alcohol, sugars, and saturated fats. Don't smoke and get at least an hour of exercise every day.
Living With the Big C
As we age, our risk of developing cancer increases. But getting cancer is not always a death sentence. Cancer that is caught early is usually the most treatable. Even if cancer can't be "cured", modern chemotherapy means that it can often be kept at bay for many years, which means you can learn to live with cancer.
The recommended frequency of certain screening tests vary with age and sex.
- For most women, cervical cancer screening is only recommended until the age of 65, unless you have a history of a serious pre-cancer, such as CIN2 or CIN3 then testing should continue for at least 20 years after that condition was found, even if the testing goes past age 65.
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend that women over the age of 55 have a mammogram to screen for breast cancer every other year for as long as she is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.
- The ACS also say that colorectal cancer screening should begin at age 45 in people at average risk and continue until the age of 75 in people who are in good health and with a life expectancy of more than 10 years.
- If you are a man, you should talk to your doctor about prostate cancer screening, as recommendations vary.
Struggling for a Breath
There are a number of different conditions that can make you short of breath. Some, such as asthma, may have affected you from an early age. Others, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), heart failure, and lung cancer are more likely as you get older and if you smoke.
If you notice any change in your breathing, see a doctor. Many different medicines can help open up the breathing tubes into your lungs, allowing you to breathe easier. Sometimes treating your heart problems fixes your breathing problems as well.
Do I Know You? Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and Other Dementias
We all have moments of forgetfulness every now and then but the memory loss associated with AD persists and worsens with time.
People with AD or similar dementias repeat statements and questions over and over and routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical places. They tend to forget conversations, appointments, and events, and eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects.
It can be distressing to watch your loved one change as AD takes hold, but remember, many important skills - such as reading, dancing, singing, and talking about the past - are not lost until very late in the disease.
Research suggests that keeping both your mind and your body active as you age may delay the onset of Alzheimer's.
Brittle Paper-Thin Bones: Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis means porous bones. Our bones are living tissue and throughout our life they constantly build up and break down - if we break a bone, our bodies are able to lay down new bone to heal the break.
People with osteoporosis have a reduced ability to lay down new bone. As a result, their bones break down faster than they build up. Although bones remain the same size, they become thinner and more brittle, and much more likely to break. Often there are no warning signs, until the person falls over and fractures their hip, wrist, or spine. Eating a diet rich in calcium and improving muscle tone and balance may help reduce osteoporosis.
Too Much Sugar in the Blood: Diabetes
Some people who have diabetes over the age of 65 probably developed it at an earlier age. But as you age, it becomes even more important to keep good control of your blood sugar levels.
Diabetes is a silent disease. Sugar trapped in your blood inflicts damage on small blood vessels and nerve fibers around your whole body. These effects become more and more noticeable the older you get. Long-term effects of diabetes include blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and problems with your feet.
Bleeding Gums, Cavities, Bad Breath: Periodontitis
Contrary to popular belief, losing your teeth is not due to old age, it's due to neglect.
Periodontitis is a bacterial infection that affects the gums and the bone supporting teeth. Once established, it is difficult to treat without intervention.
Periodontitis starts as gingivitis - a more milder gum disease with symptoms such as swollen and red-looking gums that bleed easily when brushed or flossed. Gingivitis can be prevented with twice daily brushing and flossing and regular tartar removal by a hygienist.
See a dentist right away if you have any loose teeth, pus between your teeth, persistent bad breath, receding gums, or gums that bleed easily.
Not Enjoying Life Like You Used To: Depression
Your lifestyle changes as you age. Certain activities may not be possible now. Friends or family may have moved away or died, leaving you feeling isolated or lonely. However, sadness is less likely to be a symptom of depression in seniors.
Rather, older people are more likely to complain of physical symptoms (such as arthritis pain), become dependent on alcohol or other substances to lift their mood, and less likely to engage in outside activities.
It’s a myth that older people can't learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. Overcoming depression often involves finding new things you enjoy, staying physically and socially active.
Knocked Down By Nasties: The Flu and Pneumonia
Our immune defenses weaken as we age, meaning older adults are more susceptible to complications from infections such as pneumonia; seasonal viruses, such as the flu; and now, COVID-19. Almost 90% of people who die from the flu or pneumonia every year are over 65.
The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get a flu vaccine every fall.
While you don't need a pneumococcal vaccination every year, vaccination over the age of 65 is very important. Pneumonia accounts for over 500,000 emergency department visits every year in the U.S.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information about pneumococcal vaccines. And remember, your pharmacist can administer these vaccines, too.
Floaters, Blurring, Double Vision: Normal Age-Related Eye Problems or Not?
Being able to see is a precious thing. But as our body ages, so do our eyes, and there are a number of different conditions that can impact on our sight. Get your vision checked right away if any of the following happens to you:
- A loss of, or distortions, or narrowing of your vision
- Blackness descending across your field of view
- Cloudy, blurred vision; halos; loss of color vision
- Double vision or 'ghost images'
- Spots or floaters in your vision
- Sudden eye pain or redness
Regular eye exams can help detect changes in your eyes before they cause symptoms.
Loss of Bladder Control and Problems With Urine Flow
Changes happen to our bladder, kidneys and surrounding structures as we age that affect their function. Our bladder loses its capacity to hold large amounts of urine. The ability of our kidneys to remove waste products from our blood declines. Blood vessels surrounding these organs harden, nerves become less sensitive, and muscles weaken.
Urinary problems in both men and women are common. See your doctor if you have very dark urine or blood in your urine, a strong urine odor, trouble urinating, a sudden urge to urinate or need to urinate more than normal. Many problems can be treated, either with medicines or surgically.
Finished: Aging Issues: 12 of the Most Common Health Concerns Affecting Seniors
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- Alzheimer’s Disease. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/basics/definition/con-20023871
- Diabetes Basics. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/?loc=db-slabnav
- Osteoporosis. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/basics/definition/con-20019924
- Robinson L, Smith M, Segal MA. Depression in older adults. HelpGuide.org. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-in-older-adults-and-the-elderly.htm
- What You Should Know and Do this Flu Season If You Are 65 Years and Older. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/65over.htm
- Pneumococcal Vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/pneumo/default.htm?s_cid=cs_797
- Martin L. Aging changes in the kidneys and bladder. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004010.htm
- The American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Prevention and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer. The American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/cervical-cancer-screening-guidelines.html
- American Cancer Society Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/american-cancer-society-recommendations-for-the-early-detection-of-breast-cancer.html